so, you’ve got an agent — now what?

It seems from comments the other day that there are people who are interested in knowing more about the agent side of the submission process and how it works. Several indicated that this is apparently rarely discussed in the blogosphere. My instinct is to say that the reason it tends not to appear readily is partially because most books require an individualistic approach and therefore the generalization may not prove all that helpful in explaining to someone who hasn’t yet reached that step.

We’ll assume for the purposes of this attempt that the manuscript is in a completely polished state, clean, and revised as far as the writer can take it, with any possible suggestions from the agent to make the story stronger and/or more marketable.

Then, we’ll assume that your mileage may vary a little from agency to agency, so take what follows as sort of a guideline because I can really only tell you the specifics of how I work.

The first thing I am likely to do is any required market research. Sometimes this happens partially before I offer representation. Or, in the case of clients, while I’m reading a new project that isn’t under option. If the book is an area I handle often, this doesn’t tend to take long. I check my notes from recent lunch dates or recent sales reports to begin compiling a list of editors and houses. Sometimes these include notes from other agents at DMLA. Sometimes I consult other resources — for example, if the book is a newer area for me, it might involve me chatting up an editor-friend for recommendations at their house. Basically, it’s networking, networking, networking.

Ultimately it comes to a discusion with the author. First I want to find out if they admire any particular house, perhaps for the look of its books, or if they have an editor on their dream list of people to work with. Then I discuss my marketing plan with them to make sure it fits their vision. This will also generally be the point where we talk about whether to make single submissions, multiple submissions, or set up an auction situation. There are pros and cons to each approach, depending on the book usually, but that’s a whole ‘nother essay.

Next is the submission package itself. This might look similar to the one the author would make. It would include any advance quotes I might be able to get, the author’s credits and/or reviews, author’s credentials (if appropriate). And, of course, it goes on DMLA stationery. Once I’ve got that ready to go and I’ve jotted up notes for my pitch, it’s time to talk to editors. This can happen over lunch, by phone, via email…. It’s essentially a double-check to be sure that the idea of the book will interest them, and that they are currently taking submissions. I get a positive response about 95% of the time.

The manuscript goes out into the cold, cruel world.

Submission time can vary greatly depending on the editor and this may be a factor in the marketing plan depending on the author. Some editors are known for their quick turnaround. Some are known for taking their time. And everything in between. I make regular followups to keep the book on the radar and get status updates for the client as I’m able. While we wait, I encourage the author to work on the next project, and offer helpful feedback if possible.

In the case of a rejection, I gnash my teeth, and then update the author and send them a copy of the letter or an email with the relevant portion. Then, it’s wash, rinse, repeat until we get the sale. I have made sales in under a week. But I have one book that is the basis of a story I love to tell at conventions. It took me two and a half years to sell. I swear it was under a curse because nearly every editor I sent it to either quit or was “let go” after they received it. I sure did love that book, though. I believe it’s now in its 14th printing and the author and I have gone on to sell many more.

I don’t know how much this actually tells you about what agents do with your book. Reading back through it, I find it so general as to be only vaguely illuminary. Perhaps at one point I might convince a client or three to let me map out an actual sale to illustrate this to a greater degree. For now, I hope this provides at least a little insight.

15 responses to “so, you’ve got an agent — now what?

  1. or if they have an editor on their dream list of people to work with
    Raaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! 🙂

  2. This was an excellent post and it did provide insight. So many people have this unrealistic concept of what agents do and how they pitch. The process is general and hard to imainge unless you actually do it.

  3. What if?
    First of all, I’m an avid reader of your journal and look forward to every new entry. Perhaps you should have one of your said editor-friends come on and describe what happens to the manuscript when if leaves your hands. I’ve read all the books about it, but I’m curious as to what politics and negotiations go on behind the scenes, especially the agent-editor relationship from the editor’s perspective.

  4. This was very interesting. I always like to hear how other people earn their paychecks. In this case, it sounds like you are worth your commission.
    Thanks for sharing!

  5. I don’t recall if I asked you this before, but would you be interested in doing an interview for Sequential Tart? We’ve had a number of authors but very few editors (in the Culture Vulture section, which is all non-comics stuff).

  6. Did you happen to catch my own post on this subject, over at the SFNovelists site? [grin]

  7. Thank you. This seems to be about what I imagined the process might be (allowing for the fact that of necessity it is incredibly general).
    As a followup, what sorts of market research do you do? Or, more to the point, WHICH markets do you research in order to make a submission? It seems like there’s at least three potentially conflicting markets at play: Readers, Retailers, and Editors… do you research each of them and amalgamate that into a game plan, or do you tend to focus more on one area?
    Also, it sounds like in some cases you pre-query the editors to be sure a submission is welcomed and headed in the right direction… can you share a little more about that process?

  8. This will also generally be the point where we talk about whether to make single submissions, multiple submissions, or set up an auction situation.
    Very interesting.
    Sometimes writers are so focused on what it takes to query agents, we don’t realize how many more options agents have to query publishers once you get there. Huh. Like a whole new world.

  9. Not so related to this entry, but something I’ve been curious about: What happens if you take on an author and then can’t sell that book? Do you part ways with the author, or do you try to take on another of her projects?
    Your posts are always so interesting and helpful!

  10. Submissions
    I’m beginning to get a better picture of this entire Process. Thank you very much for the time and effort you have put into this – it certainly has been illuminating

  11. The post was very interesting and informative. I’m getting to the stage where I will need to try to find an agent and so I need all the info I can get about what they do, how they do it, etc. I hope you don’t mind if I add you as a friend and watch your further posts on the topic.

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